Cheaper fares hidden from travellers

11 March 2011
Being a bit of a money-saving geek, I always set up alerts from the Trainline when I’m travelling anywhere so I can buy tickets 12 weeks before travel and save money.
But recently I had trouble while booking a journey from London to Edinburgh. Although I’d received the email alert and tickets on the website were available, the cheapest price quoted was £75. As a seasoned traveller I knew tickets should be about 20% of this but on the phone I was told these were the only tickets available as all the cheaper ones had already sold out.
I knew this was not right and after a few days cheaper tickets went on sale and I booked both singles for £10 each. Quite a difference from the £75 I was originally quoted.
This poor information is worrying as many people may have paid the full whack for a ticket although cheaper ones were available.
At the station it’s not much better. When I get tickets from Basingstoke to London it can be baffling trying to work out which times count as on and off peak, the difference between any time travel and next day travel and what to do when you can’t by a next day return before 9am. To make things worse there’s usually no one around to ask, or a queue of 10 people already waiting.
Recent research from Which? says because rail users are given such poor advice they regularly end up paying more. It mystery shopped a number of stations and found that 50% of station clerks and 43% of operators on the National Rail Enquiries line failed to advise passengers on the cheapest option. was also criticised for not giving enough information on all the options available to customers.
Train prices went up 6.2% on average in January and it’s unacceptable that the service we get in return is so rubbish. It’s usually always cheaper to buy two single tickets instead of a return and in advance but as people aren’t told this when they buy tickets, they quite often pay far more.
It's cheaper to buy online and National Express East Anglia doesn't charge any booking fees. There's little difference in price between and other regional websites but has no booking or credit card fees.
What is the point in having super-advance fares or cheaper daily tickets if people aren’t told about them?